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Business permits slip through cracks
Business permits slip through cracks
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Chardon Township Trustees are considering proposed changes to conditional-use permits, which are used to control commercial properties and home businesses.
Trustees received the proposed changes last week which would discontinue the required renewals of permits every five years. Recommendations also could offer amnesty for businesses that have failed to obtain the required permits.
The recommendations come in response to questions about the conditional-use permits raised by Trustees Michael Brown and Charles Strazinsky Jr.
"They would like to know if there is any reason that they should require conditional-use certificates to business owners just because they are in the commercial district," the Geauga County Prosecutor's Office noted in a memo. "A couple of the trustees do not see the need to have businesses come back every five years to renew a certificate. The trustees believe that, if there is a complaint-problem with a business, the issue will be dealt with when the complaint-problem occurs."
Assistant Geauga County Prosecutor Rebecca Schlag recommended against eliminating the condition-use permits, noting that they add a layer of oversight on businesses.
"Conditional-use permits are generally required for uses which may have a significant impact on the community (i.e. a gas station because of the potential impact on traffic, aesthetics, environment, etc.)," Ms. Schlag wrote. "Think of it this way, it's not that the CUP business is necessarily unusual or disfavored, but rather the potential impact on the community is such that the township wishes to retain an element of control."
Based on that advice, the township's zoning commission recommended retaining conditional-use permits for businesses in the commercial district.
Zoning officials wrote that the township's commercial district is small, with most lots only 400 feet deep, which affords little opportunity for buffers between it and residential districts.
The commission also concluded that the current process allows greater control of businesses on the "front end of the process" and allows residents to have input.
Zoning officials, however, recommended that the township discontinue the renewal process after businesses obtain the required conditional-use permits.
Currently, only six of the 16 businesses in the township have obtained the required conditional-use permits, officials said.
Township Zoning Inspector Donald Mohney said businesses pay a fee of $500 for the permit and another $500 every five years at renewal. He said some of those that are in noncompliance were grandfathered. Others were due to oversights before he was zoning inspector, he said.
The zoning commission recommended that those in noncompliance be brought into compliance before the new rules take effect and that an incentive such as amnesty be used to encourage that.
The commission also recommended that, in lieu of the renewal process, the duties of the zoning inspector be revised to allow annual inspections of the businesses to ensure that uses have not changed.
The commission asked that trustees retain conditional-use permits for home occupations but discontinue the renewal process.
Mr. Brown argued that there is no need for the conditional-use permits, because zoning spells out the requirements for the businesses. "Zoning is not a negotiable thing," he said. "You follow it, or you don't follow it."
But Mr. Mohney said, if specific conditions are not established, it's difficult to determine whether the business is in compliance. "How do you enforce it if you don't know what he's allowed to do?" he asked.
Mr. Mohney said he doesn't want to be the lone decision-maker for what conditions are set for a business. He said it's better if the board of zoning appeals decides those conditions, because it involves several people in the decisions. He said that process also allows for public input.
Mr. Mohney recommended that a day be set for businesses to receive the permits at no cost. "If you say to them it's $500 bucks if you don't show up and free if you do show up tonight, I think we'll get all seven," he said of those that are in noncompliance.
Mr. Brown questioned whether the businesses should still be required to pay the $500 fee, noting that it pays for the administrative costs.
Township Fiscal Officer Joan Windnagel said it would be unfair to businesses to charge them for something they did not know they were responsible for. "You shouldn't be charging someone when it's not their fault," she said. "It's not up to the individual to know."
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